Monday, May 18, 2009

CREE blog moving over

Hello those of you kind enough to follow CREE's activities and blog. We have a new revamped website at the same address (

It will integrate the blog there directly so be sure to check up there as of tomorrow.



Friday, January 23, 2009

Human rights and the small eco-wars

A recent United Nations publication looked at the relationship between natural resources and conflict with implications for peace-building. This research showed that environmental stressors can worsen the severity and duration of conflict, and also predicted demographic pressures such as urbanization and inequitable access/shortage of land to worsen this problem in the coming decades. CREE appreciates this analysis, in that it could direct more attention towards environmental conflict remediation.

A poignant example is the bushmeat crisis in West Africa, with Cameroon as a microcosm. While some rampant poaching is cultural and tied to rural-urban markets in cities, other bushmeat usage is related directly to poverty conditions at village levels. In other words, to fulfill basic daily protein consumption needs. This is the case in Cameroon National Park. Environmental conflicts escalate over access to natural resources such as snail meat. Local people traditionally harvested snails, a National Park was created, and this activity has been made illegal within park boundaries. This problem therefore becomes a human rights issue over who has access to the park's natural resources and why. CREE's Cameroon program addresses this through propogation of snails through domestic sources, negating the need for wild harvest, and environmental education to explain why domestic sourcing of snails is superior to bushmeat. Multiple snail farms and the staff time to educate local people costs merely a few thousand dollars in a village. This insignificant amount of money helps ameliorate conflict and gives real alternatives for people who now have little (legal) alternatives to natural resource harvest in the park they used to visit. In addition to the UN's worthy efforts at extreme conflict remediation, CREE would like to see more targeted small funding directed towards individual villages. The result would be working towards an improved land ethic, as Aldo Leopold called it, where man's actions don't necessarily have to run in direct contradiction to environmental conservation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The efficacy of conservationists doing humanitarian work

Camiguin Island is one of the five islands in the Babuyan Islands, Philippines. Recently this island has been ravaged by unusually extreme weather, including a number of typhoons. This has resulted in the death of some villagers, and the destroying of property with obvious livelihoods implications. Recently CREE has decided to lend a helping hand to these affected areas, through the distribution of humanitarian aid. One may question why a conservation organization should undertake this sort of work traditionally dedicated to humanitarian agences. CREE believes that when you engage in community conservation work, this community work should be responsive and appropriate to the community. Because the goals of our eco-tourism project in the Babuyan Islands are long-term, we believe our program should be responsive to villagers' needs. For the moment due to the disastrous weather, these needs are not in building new boats for tourism, but in helping villagers rebuild their lives. Fortunately, because CREE's Project Manager Jo Marie Acebes has been working in the area for years, our conservation staff is intimately familiar with community and familial conditions in the area. Jom is therefore one of the best people to decide where this aid should go and what it should be. When you work in a community, whether you are a conservationist, a human rights advocate, or a water engineer, the bottom line is that you work in a community and benefiting the community should be the primary goal. You are therefore the most adept at responding to community needs. CREE's project in the Philippines works at the 'human-environment' interface, which means we deal with problems human societies face as they relate to their environment. Distribution of humanitarian aid during this time is therefore one of the best things we can do from a conservation perspective. Why? It will help strengthen our bonds with the community, which in turn will help us to carry out our work in the future with more ease when timing is most appropriate. This programmatic flexibility is linked to how we view conservation dilemmas: in much longer (generational) timeframes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Are we really happy working for 'pro-poor conservation'?

Terminology often is just that, terminology. Yet words have meaning behind them. When conservationists work for the improvement of poverty conditions, some call this 'pro-poor conservation'. A terrible term for a very worthy body of work in my opinion. Indeed, many working on 'pro-poor conservation' do fantastic work. Yet CREE has always had a problem with the powerlessness that is inherent behind this term. Conservation should not be morphed to place a band-aid on the phenomena of 'poverty' by working with a disenfranchised group of people they call the poor. Conservation should engage local people from the onset by letting their ideas structure solutions, instead of merely delineating 'poor people' as one of the target audiences of projects, alongside biodiversity, ecological system interactions, and other matrices to be evaluated. When this 'poor' audience is given a voice and true power over the decisions on land-use, productive solutions can arise. This is a picture of a Sri Lankan fisherman who was a poacher of sea turtles in a past life. He is now a dedicated patrolman on the beaches who not only protects the beach from other poachers, but also uses his expertise to identify nesting females and behavioral patterns through tracks on the beach. Thus he has taken his role beyond a mere paycheck and helped to structure a program in a positive way. The reason he did this is because a conservationist had faith in his abilities and motivations, despite his past track record. This same scientist most likely worked to develop this relationship over a long time. Tangible benefits may not have came about instantaneously, but they did come to a definitive fruition.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Adjusted Timelines for Community Conservation

Community based conservation work does not follow the same time line as traditional conservation. One must move past the historical failures of traditional conservation, which brought large amounts of money into communities fast and with short and limited time lines. This was often inadequate to clarify community perceptions from environmental work. We feel that relationship-building is in itself a tangible outcome, even if it and other qualitative variables are much harder to measure. CREE's work which engages local communities will last for 30 years. These are local children who were at our demonstration lecture on 'eco-san' toilets (link below). We see the inter-generational nature of conservation work in this picture, and we adjust our project goals accordingly.

Social Enterprise

CREE believes in the power and creativity of the individual. Local people have wonderful and marketable ideas capable of success if they are given the means. Here we see examples of this through two of CREE's projects. The first picture is Leonard Awkwany, CREE's Project Manager for Kenya. Here he is sitting on the proud work of local artisans engaged in 'Cottage Industry Products', which produces chairs and mats through papyrus. Leonard works with locals to ensure that the harvest is sustainable and ecologically-appropriate. This means the work doesn't come at a cost to the regions amazing birdlife.

In this example we see the work of local Amerindian women in Guyana. CREE's Project Manager Michelle Kalamandeen works specifically with women as a target audience to show communities that income from sea turtles can come in other ways than through their poaching for meat and eggs. The benefits are remarkable: women gain a sense of pride and ownership over their work, learn a new trade, and their creative talents are showcased worldwide.

Predators, People, and Cattle

This is a picture of Chief Olepelo. He was the first Maasai to institute the 'lion-proof fencing'. He had continual problems with predators attacking his goats and sheep, particularly hyaena. He sold some of his domestic stock to pay for the costs of the lion fence himself. (You can see the chain link fence behind Chief and his father. It complements the existing fence made from local vegetation)

Since installing this chain link fence to prevent predator attacks over 3 years ago, Chief has had zero attacks on his domestic stock. This is an incredible improvement and similar cases have been reported where Bernard Kissui (Program Manager for CREE) works. Bernard has installed nearly 20 fences to date and all of them have brought predator attacks to zero since installation. CREE requires 50/50 cost-shares on all fences to ensure that the Maasai are serious about making the fence work in the long-term. This also avoids a culture of giving with no care for the materials. Fences that can protect over 100 cattle can cost as little as $700 USD. Work such as this in communities traditionally affected by wildlife (and predators specifically) in negative ways has done much to improve human-environment relations. While living with Chief Olepelo in Tanzania during the summer of 2008, he expressed great pride for the wildlife living around his lands. This includes giraffe, baboons, and various herbivores. Chief said that his desire to kill predators is directly linked to their eating of his cattle. Once this problem ceases, retaliatory means are no longer necessary.